The Boston Bruins set a precedence this past week, when they cut Dmitri Khristich loose following the Ukrainian's award of $2.8 million for next season. Bruins GM Harry Sinden has been unhappy with Khristich's performance in this spring's playoffs and hasn't been quiet about it. Apparently, the other GMs around the NHL agree with Sinden, as there has been no market for Khristich despite Boston's efforts to trade him at the draft in June, and this past week during the 72 hour timeframe the Bruins had to decide to keep him for $2.8 million or to cut him loose and let him become an unrestricted free agent.
Indeed, I had to feel there was something to Sinden's unkind words about Khristich. After all, when a forward pots 29 goals and 71 points last season, you'd think other clubs would be salivating over the possibility of landing Khristich when the Bruins put him on the block on draft day. There is some substantiation to Sinden's rants. Khristich has never been mistaken for a hard-nosed playoff performer who relishes the rough stuff in the corners. Plus, his point production did drop off somewhat in the second half of the regular season. I scoffed at the hints of collusion and black-balling suggested by Khristich's agent following the Bruins rejection of the arbitration award.
However, thanks to a very knowledgeable friend of mine named Geoff, I'm now looking at this situation differently. While Khristich's production did drop in the second half of last season, it wasn't as bad as Sinden makes it out to be. Prior to the All Star break, the winger's production was 18 goals and 41 points; for the remainder of the season, it was 11 goals and 30 points. The previous season, Khristich's totals in the first half of the season were 16 goals and 32 points. However, in the second half, he tallied 13 goals and 34 points. Geoff also pointed out to me that Khristich's point production wasn't the only one to drop, and pointed out that 1998 Calder Winner Sergei Samsonov had horrible numbers in the second half last season, and didn't have a great playoff either. Nor did Jason Allison, who was given a tongue-lashing in the media by Sinden (who later apologized to Allison, something he didn't do for Khristich). Finally, it should be pointed out that Khristich scored 3 goals and 7 points in 12 playoff games this year. These totals would be looked on favourably by other clubs who could use more offensive production in the playoffs.
It's Geoff's contention that the Khristich situation has more to do with money, rather than the winger's on-ice performance. Given the above statistics, coupled with Khristich's eligibility for unrestricted free agency next season, and the Bruins reputation for being cheap when it comes to player's salaries, I have to wonder if Sinden was motivated more by dollars than by production. Let's face it, folks, a 71 point winger at $2.8 million for one year is a good deal, considering what forwards with lesser numbers last season like Valeri Kamensky got for signing with the Rangers.
What about the insinuations of Khristich's agent about collusion against his client? At this stage, there's nothing that can be proven. The fact there were no takers when the Bruins shopped him around at draft day and this past week following the arbitration award probably has more to do with teams waiting for the results of the arbitration hearing last week than some deep-rooted plan to use Khristich as an example or a "whipping boy" in the struggle between players and owners over salaries.
Sinden stated he "didn't want to lose an asset and get nothing in return". Still, he had to know that, with Khristich eligible to go to arbitration again this year, no team was going to make a pitch for him until they found out what the award would be, and whether or not the Bruins would accept the arbitrator's decision. Sinden also had to know no one in their right mind would make a deal for the winger following the award if the Bruins were trying hard to trade him during the 72 hour decision-making time period following the arbitrator's decision. After all, why trade away any assets of your own (players, picks or prospects) for a player who could be had as an unrestricted free agent once the Bruins walked away from the decision? By his own words, Sinden was aware of the consequences, hence the reason he signed UFA Dave Andreychuk as a replacement for Khristich. However, Andreychuk's point production has been fading for years, and there's no way he'll be as strong a contributor to the B's offence like Khristich was, regardless of the latter's "soft" playoff performance and second half "tail-off". If Sinden had been serious about getting something in exchange for Khristich, he would've signed him and then tried to trade him.
Still, once cannot deny the importance of this situation with regards to other contract negotiations; particularly those that could go to arbitration in the future. The precendent has been set, and should Khristich go unsigned for a prolonged period, it could add more weight to his agent's claims of collusion. As I said before, a player of Khristich's talents with a $2.8 million pricetag for one season is a bargain by today's bloated salary standards. Lord knows there are plenty of teams out there who could use a player of his calibre. Last season's bottom feeders like the Lightning, Islanders and Blackhawks could definitely use him, while the expansion Thrashers could also benefit from Khristich's offence. Something tells me this story may be far from over.
The great Canadiens coach Toe Blake once said "predictions are for gypsies". That should be sage advice for all writers who dare speculate as to how teams are going to do in an upcoming NHL hockey season. After all, unlike a seven game playoff series between two teams where the odds are more evenly balanced for prediction success, you're looking at an 84 game schedule, with 28 teams, stetched out over a seven month period. Lots of things can happen to affect a team's status in the time-frame: injuries, trades, holdouts, coaching changes and so on. One never knows how well a team will improve or falter compared to the previous season. For example, last September I wrote a lengthy article concerning the Toronto Maple Leafs futile hopes of making the playoffs in the tough Eastern Conference, while confidently predicting the Montreal Canadiens would finish as high as fourth overall. Needless to say, I wound up with egg on my face come late April!
That being said, I find myself having to refer to my "magic hockey 8-ball" earlier than usual this summer, as there's been a dire dirth of hockey news to report on. I'm not about to start speculating as to where each team will place exactly in their respective divisions and conferences, nor am I going to be making predictions on who will win the Stanley Cup. The Hockey News does that every summer in their annual yearbook, and are usually wrong. Ditto Sports Illustrated, who seem to doom a team every time they predict a Cup champion. No, these musings you find below, faithful reader, are made taking into account what I stated in my opening paragraph. Things can happen between now and October first to change the following scenarios, so obviously they aren't "carved in stone". Still, they're the best I can come up with, at least until next week's Soapbox, when hopefully there'll be more substantial NHL hockey news to comment on! Also, I've listed the teams in alphabetical order, so please don't interpret where the order as where I think each team will place!
ATLANTA THRASHERS: The new franchise will be looking to copy Nashville's promising first year. However, the Predators had a deeper talent pool to pick from, plus the unexpectedly strong support of it's fan base. The Thrashers couldn't count on the former, and it remains to be seen how well the fans take to a dead last franchise. Ted Turner's money won't come into play until next year's more lucrative UFA market.
ANAHEIM MIGHTY DUCKS: As long as Selanne and Kariya have another healthy season, look for continued improvement by the Ducks. Indeed, with the addition of Oleg Tverdovsky from the Coyotes, Anaheim's blueline just got deeper and stronger offensively as GM Pierre Gauthier continues to strengthen the supporting cast for his two superstars up front.
BOSTON BRUINS: The Bruins are one of the best young teams in the NHL, and should continue to improve under coach Pat Burns. 1997 first overall pick Joe Thornton could be ready for his "break-though" season this year. It says something about Boston's depth when they can willingly shop Dmitri Khristich, a 29 goal, 71 point forward! Expect a much higher position in the standings for the Beantowners.
BUFFALO SABRES: All take notice: the Sabres have demonstrated they are no longer a team with a great goaltender and little else. This club took the Stars to triple OT in the sixth game of the Cup Finals, which speaks volumes for how strong they really are. Led by Michael Peca and with emerging players like Grozek, Holzinger, Rasmussen, Satan, C. Brown, Warrener, Varada, Wooley and D. Ward, this club should move up the Eastern Conference standings. Given this is Hasek's final year, plus their bitterness at the way the Finals ended, they should make another strong run for the Cup this season.
CALGARY FLAMES: A lot of folks (myself included) expected the Flames to wilt and die after Theo Fleury was traded away. Instead, this rebuilding young club was in contention for the final playoff spot in the West until the last few days of the regular season. Opponents would be wise not to take this young team lightly. Youngsters Jerome Iginla, Todd Simpson, Derek Morris, and Cory Stillman are emerging as strong players, and Valeri Bure seems poised to live up to expectations offensively. Should any of the other playoff contenders slump next season, Calgary could make it into the post-season. As it stands, I believe they're only a season away from becoming a legitimate playoff team.
CAROLINA HURRICANES: After ending a seven year playoff drought last year, the Hurricanes should make it back into the post-season this year. However, there are a couple of problem areas lurking as the season begins. Center Keith Primeau's unrealistic salary demands could spell his prolonged absence from the lineup. Furthermore, the Canes need to improve their blueline and take some of the pressure off goaltender Arturs Irbe if they want to significantly improve their point total.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Following last year's disasterous season, look for significant improvement from this year's Blackhawks lineup. Replacing the inexperienced Dirk Graham with Lance Molleken had a postive effect on the players. But the biggest improvement to Chicago's fortunes should come in the form of Boris Mironov, Anders Eriksson, and Dean McAmmond; all of whom gave over in major deals with Edmonton and Detroit. Given how badly things went last year, the Hawks have nowhere to go but up. They probably won't make the playoffs, but should finish higher than they did in 1999.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: Already there are dire predictions concerning the Avalanche's upcoming season, as some believe Colorado will be unable to recover from losing Kamensky, Lefebrve and Fleury to free agency. Plus, they'll lose Peter Forsberg until December and Martin Hedjuk through training camp (at least) due to surgery to repair playoff injuries. There's no question the Avs will probably slump a bit in the first half of next season, as they did last year when their blueline corps was riddled with injury. However, it shouldn't be forgotten the Avs still have skilled veterans in Roy, Ozolinsh, Foote, A. Miller, Sakic, Deadmarsh, and Lemieux. Plus, they have 1999 Calder winner Chris Drury, and good things are expected from rookies Alex Tanguay and Marc Denis this year. A lineup with that kind of talent won't be down for long, if at all. Once Forsberg and Hedjuk return to active duty, the Avs should be very strong in the second half of this upcoming season. It's far too early to sing the death knell of this team!
DALLAS STARS: The only things that can kill the Stars chances for a repeat are a lot of "ifs". If the players can stay motivated. If they continue to adhere to Ken Hitchcock's coaching. If they can avoid a rash of serious injuries to their lineup. If age doesn't catch up to key players like Carbonneau, Keane and Skrudland. Long story short here: if none of the above occur next season, don't be surprised to see another Cup parade in Dallas next June! However, Dallas fans should take warning: I said the same thing about the Red Wings last year.
DETROIT RED WINGS: There are pronouncements being made that the Wings era of dominence is over. We've heard all this before, but this time it's hard to argue against it. Key players like Yzerman, Shanahan, Murphy and Larionov are aging. They sacrificed their future to land Chelios and Samuelsson, who proved to be non-effective against the Avs last spring. Plus, it's a very realy possibility they'll lose Niklas Lidstrom to retirement. Granted, Federov, Osgood and Kozlov are in their primes, and the supporting cast of grinders like McCarty, Lapointe, Holmstrom and Dandenault are still young. They'll still be a good team, but the future doesn't look to hold another trip to the Finals.
EDMONTON OILERS: Another year, another round of speculation over whether the Oilers can keep their key players. There are even more questions surrounding them. Can they afford to keep Guerin, Salo, and Hamrlik? Will they trade one of them? Will they deal Doug Weight, despite Glen Sather's denials, to free up money to keep the other players? Will Weight be able to make a full recovery from last year's dibilitating knee injury? Will Salo be able to carry over last spring's strong playoff performance through this season? Will the players respond positively to rookie coach Kevin Lowe. It's going to be an interesting year in Edmonton, one that could see the Oilers missing the playoffs if the situations noted above aren't worked out.
FLORIDA PANTHERS: How far the Panthers go this year will rest on the wonky knee of superstar Pavel Bure. The Russian Rocket was phenomenal in his 11 games in Florida, lifting a moribund lineup in the process, before he blew out his previously injured knee. If Bure is healthy, the Panthers could make a serious challenge to the Hurricanes. If not, Florida's efforts to get back to the post-season could be difficult.
LOS ANGELES KINGS: It'll be interesting to see how an off-season of change - new coach, new arena, and newly acquired marquee player Ziggy Palffy - affects the Kings this year. The Kings are a better team than last season's record indicates, but they went into a spiral early last season, due to injuries and communication problems between then-coach Larry Robinson and some veteran players. Palffy will provide strong offensive clout, but everything hinges on how Robinson's replacement, Andy Murray, can motivate this team; as well as a healthier start to the season.
MONTREAL CANADIENS: After a promising 97-98 season, last season's poor performance has the natives restless in Montreal. Injuries, holdouts and indifferent play by some key players resulted in a poor first half which, despite a stronger second half performance, wasn't enough to recover from. There have been open calls for GM Rejean Houle's resignation, but Houle seems determined to stay the course. Re-signing goaltender Jeff Hackett and trading his first rounder for Trevor Linden's experience and leadership shows his determination to improve the Habs. Like the Kings, the Canadiens are a better team than their record last season, but they'll need a healthier season, and better performances from last summer's RFA holdouts (Koivu, Corson, Rucinsky, and Savage). They'll easily make the playoffs if this comes to pass. However, another sub-par season could result in coaching and management changes by next spring.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS: The Preds had a strong first season, buoyed in part by a fanatical following in Nashville. They'll hope to build on that going into this season. They're still a club that's a few years from making the playoffs, but it's probably a safe bet this team, with Barry Trotz's coaching aiblities and David Poile's management skills, will continue to show steady improvement.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Another playoff year, another choke for the Devils. So why should we expect anything different this season? It's unfair to compare last spring's collapse with 1998's "choke", as last season's playoff loss came as the result of being a younger, more offensive team than the veteran defensive-oriented squad of previous seasons. With rising young stars like Morrison, Elias, Rolston, and Sykora; the presence of talented veterans like Holik and Neidermeyer; plus the change to a more offensive style under Robbie Ftorek, I feel safe in saying next year's post-season should have a different result. Provided, of course, they can overcome the pressure from their fans and management.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS: The question surrounding this franchise is "how low can you go?" It was only two summers ago Islanders fans had reason to hope. Their club had begun to show significant improvement as their young prospects began to make their presence felt. Their blueline was touted as one of the most promising in the league, and it looked as if they were finally on their way back to respectability. What a difference a couple of years makes. Most of those promising youngsters are either gone through trades or failed to live up to expectations. Their best player was dealt away as a cost-cutting measure. The ownership seems more interested in acquiring NFL franchises than rebuilding this once-proud team. Mike Milbury is unable to stop meddling at the coaching level, and has incurred the wrath of the dwindling crowds turning out at the aging Nassau Colliseum. Can it get any worse? If it can, the Isles will find a way!
NEW YORK RANGERS: Very simply: wouldn't you expect a team with a payroll over $60 million US to have more depth than the current Rangers lineup has? GM Neil Smith has only succeeded in making his team older, not better, while continuing to drive up players salaries. Can the Rangers make the playoffs this year? Sure, as long as we prescribe the "if" factors. IF youngsters Malholtra and Brendl can have a major on-ice impact. IF the aging veterans don't tire and feel the effects of the season down the stretch. IF the new bunch of high-priced help can gel better than last season's crew. IF opponents like the Habs, Panthers, and Capitals struggle like they did last season. IF one or two of last year's playoff clubs slump. IF you ask me, that's relying on too many intangibles for post-season success.
OTTAWA SENATORS: Last season's strong regular season ended in the bitter disappointment of an early exit in four games at the hands of the Sabres. The main thing which will affect any improvement this season will be money, or lack of it. If the Sens can re-sign their key RFAs, they should be able to build towards a stronger season. The holdout of selfish superstar Alexei Yashin should be overcome with the depth they have in their lineup, provided they can get them all re-signed. Look for Yashin to be dealt, or lost for five first rounders next summer if there's not a suitable trade offer.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: Things are getting ugly on Broad Street, and could get worse. There's an acknowledged rift between GM Bobby Clarke and superstar Eric Lindros. The defence isn't much better than last season, and Vanbiesbrouck is getting older, not better. This will be a crucial season for the Flyers. If they fail to regain their status as one of the league's elite teams, it could cost Clarke his job. There's also no guarentee Lindros will agree to return after this season. It's going to be interesting to see how the Flyers make out this year.
PHOENIX COYOTES: It's simply amazing to me how a team with as much talent as the Coyotes can be so dismal in the post-season. Will new head coach Bobby Francis turn things around? If he does, he should become a coach of the year candidate! It's obvious that, despite their talented lineup, there's a problem with team chemistry in Phoenix. Last year, I predicted they'd end their slump, like I always do, and got burned again! To hell with it: the Coyotes will choke like they always do! Maybe that'll change their luck!
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Last year, I fully expected the Pens to tumble out of playoff contention, basing it on Jagr's feud with Constantine. There's still no love lost between these two, but they were able to bury their differences for the good of the team last year while it was going through the distraction of it's bankruptcy procedures. Inspired by Jagr's strong leadership, players like Straka, Kovalev, Lang and Titov stepped up their level of play. They've bought into Constantine's defensive system, which makes them a difficult team to beat when they're healthy. With the team's eventual sale to former Pens superstar Mario Lemieux keeping them in Pittsburgh, this club should only get better this season.
ST LOUIS BLUES: Folks weren't expecting much from the Blues following Brett Hull's departure, but thanks to the coaching of Joel Quenneville; the twin blueline pillars of MacInnis and Pronger; and the emergence of Pavel Demietra as a sniper, the Blues upset the Coyotes and pushed the Stars to six games. Pierre Turgeon earned himself a new deal and lease on life in St Louis after his best playoff performance in years, while Craig Conroy and Scott Pellerin continued to improve. Indeed, the one thing the Blues need right now is a suitable replacement for Grant Fuhr, who like Hasek will retire after this season. With a strong number one goaltender, the Blues could have a good shot at becoming one of the top three teams in the Western Conference.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: With a team that sports Steve Shields in goal; Suter, Ragnarsson and Rathje on the blueline; and Friesen, Marleau, Ricci, Sturm and Nolan up front, there's little reason to doubt this team will make the playoffs. The only question now is, can they do it by having a strong performance throughout the entire season, rather than their nail-biting habit of a sub-par first half and a mad dash for contention in the second half. With more consistency, the Sharks could become a top four franchise in the West.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: What a difference a change in ownership and management can do! Although this season's edition has yet to hit the ice, one has to feel the NHL's sad-sack franchise is finally heading in the right direction. New GM Rick Dudley has done a masterful job so far. First, in dealing highly touted Pavel Brendl to the Rangers for goaltender Daniel Cloutier, forward Nicklas Sundstrom and the Rangers first and third rounders next season. Cloutier will give the Avs the strong goaltending they've lacked since Darren Puppa's 1996 season. Dudley then sends "Sunny" and the third rounder to the Sharks for Zyuzin, Houlder, Burr, and Guolla. That gives them, respectively, a potentially long-term talent on the blueline, a seasoned defenceman, a former fan favourite and a former IHL player of the year in 1997. One has to believe Dudley will next turn his sights on improving the Lightning on the wings. Given his moves thus far, it's a safe bet he can pull this off too! The Bolts are still a couple of seasons away from playoff contention now, but they're in much better shape than they've been over the past three years.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: As I stated earlier, I didn't give the Leafs much chance to improve last season, but thanks to new coach Pat Quinn, newly-acquired goaltender Curtis Joseph, the emergence of youngsters Modin, Berezin, Kabarle, and Markov; the continued fine play of Mats Sundin and contributions from veterans like Steve Thomas, they went to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Leafs should have continued success with their present lineup, but they need to improve their team defence. Last year, they were among the worst in that category, and it came home to roost against the Sabres in the playoffs. They'll need to take care of their own end better - Brian Berard needs to improve in that department - if they hope to advance to their first Cup finals since 1967.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: One has to give GM Brian Burke credit for his efforts to turn around this team. Indeed, his moves at the draft table to land both Sedin twins was a major coup. However, Canucks fans won't see either twin until probably next season. For this upcoming season, there's still much work to be done. The blueline is decent enough, as it was the highest scoring corps in the NHL last season. However, they need to improve between the pipes and require more offensive production up front. Neither appears likely to happen this season. Burke's efforts will bear fruit down the road, but Vancouver fans should be prepared for more rebuilding and another missed post-season.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: How far the mighty had fallen last year! From a Cup finalist to a non-playoff club in just one season. However, Caps fans should take heart, as they know their club, like the Kings and Canadiens, were victim of an injury-riddled season. With players like Bondra, Gonchar, Kolzig, Oates, and Pivonka, this club should see an improvement to their fortunes, provided they can avoid another season of serious injuries. It's interesting to note that, in 1996-97 and last season, the Caps were amongst the most heavily injured teams in the NHL and missed the playoffs in both seasons. When they went all the way to the Finals in the 97-98 season, they were amongst the league's healthiest clubs.
- Like most of you, I was taken by surprise regarding the announcement of Buffalo Sabres goaltender Domink Hasek of his imminent retirement at the end of next season. He cited his family and the constrictions of the limelight as his main reasons for this decision. You have to give a guy credit when he decides to pass up earning more millions to spend more time with his family. Those of us who live in North America cannot quite comprehend how difficult it is for European hockey stars to be away from their homelands during the long hockey season. Most of them, upon retirement, high-tail back to Europe, rather than settle in or near the North American cities they played for. Hasek obviously isn't alone, as Detroit's star blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom has been talking about doing the same thing for the past two years now.
As for the limelight, I think it's more the harshness of the glare here in North America than it is back home in the Czech Republic that's been bothering Hasek. Here, his every little foible, temper flares and even his injury status is called into question, even openly ridiculed, not just in other NHL cities, but in Buffalo as well. Despite all that Hasek's given back to the Buffalo community; despite all that he's given his team, he still can't seem to win respect from the local media, particularly those on the open-mouth sports shows. Back home, he's treated like royalty; the man who single-handedly brought the tiny Czech nation Olympic gold and international glory. He's earned more than enough for him and his family to live comfortably there for the rest of their lives. Obviously, there comes a time when your own well-being, and that of your family, takes priority. For all hockey fans out there, regardless of whether you love or hate Hasek, I suggest we all enjoy the Dominator's final season. Like Gretzky, Lemieux, and Orr before him, we shall not see his like pass this way again. He will go down in hockey history as one of the all-time great goaltenders.
-The Yashin situation, on the other hand, was certainly no surprise. Most of us knew the talented Ottawa captain would pull this stunt and demand more money, especially after the type of season he had last year. It's admirable that Senators management have decided to hang tough and expect Yashin to honor his contract. I find the whispered hints of a possible lawsuit against the centre intriquing, but doubt the Senators will actually go that far. Indeed, it'll be interesting to see how this situation develops. Obviously, Yashin is taking a page from Pavel Bure's book on holdouts. He's got more than enough money to sustain himself through a long holdout. If need be, he'll stay away until next summer, when he becomes a restricted free agent. You have to believe they'll be some deep-pocketed teams out there (like the Rangers, for example) who'd willingly give up five first rounders to lay their mitts on as talented as player as Yashin.
As for the Senators, how long they last before finally trading their best player will depend on how well they perform in his absence. Mark my words, the Sens will have no choice but to deal him sooner or later. They obviously don't have the money to pay him the demanded $8 - $10 million per season, not without letting some of their other young RFAs go unsigned in the process. They'll keep those players and try their luck next season without Yashin. If they can continue to play as well as they did last season without him, they'll undoubtedly hold off until the trade deadline when they know they'll get a sweet return. However, if the season goes poorly, as some have suggested, Ottawa could find themselves more "willing" to entertain bids from a bigger market, deeper-pocketed team (hello there, Neil Smith of the Rangers!)
- Looks like the Hurricanes are determined to keep Keith Primeau after all. It was reported on July 30th the Canes are planning on making another contract offer to their big captain soon. Furthermore, GM Jim Rutherford has further upped the ante, saying he'll match any offer, from any team, in order to keep Primeau in Carolina. That's all well and good. However, Rutherford has said he won't give Primeau more than the $5.2 mil per season Ron Francis is currently making. Primeau still wants $6 mil per season. A lot of this could well depend on how well season ticket sales go for the Hurricanes, as well as attendence in the first couple of months in their new arena.
- If someone was shopping a player that had nearly 30 goals and over 70 points last season, you'd think there would be teams falling all over themselves trying to land that player, right? However, if your name is Dmitri Khristich, your value is roughly that of mud right now! Evidently, the rest of the NHL general managers think as little of Khristich as Bruins GM Harry Sinden, who's been trying to dump the soft forward since draft day in June.
- Has anyone found this off-season as boring as I have? It certainly doesn't measure up to last year, that's for sure! Remember when the Leafs signed Cujo? Remember how the trade rumours were flying fast and furious about where Potvin would end up? How about the Bure stand-off, and all the speculation that created! The holdouts in Boston. Keith Tkachuk's contract squabbles in Phoenix. Bobby Clarke trying to justify why he signed Beezer when he could've had Cujo. Now THAT was an off-season! So far, apart from the Dominator's surprise retirement announcement, and Yashin's expected posturing, this summer's had about as much life in it as a cemetary at midnight! I've actually had to (gasp) find other things to keep me occupied! If this keeps up, I might actually get a life! Oh, well, training camp begin in a month...